Past US envoy in Sweden tipped for UK post

Past US envoy in Sweden tipped for UK post
Matthew Barzun, who served as Barack Obama's first US ambassador in Stockholm, has been tipped to be the next American ambassador in London, according to British media reports.

Barzun, 42, who arrived in Stockholm in late 2009, had his term in Stockholm cut short when he was recalled to the United States in April 2011 to head up national fundraising efforts for Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.

And after helping raise $700 million during Obama’s successful reelection campaign, Barzun is set to claim what is widely considered to be the top prize among diplomatic posts traditionally offered to politically appointed US ambassadors.

Citing diplomatic sources, the Guardian newspaper in the UK reported on Monday that Barzun will soon be unveiled as Obama’s choice as US ambassador in London.

Barzun’s nomination is “imminent”, the newspaper reported, after being delayed by a flood of personnel appointments at the State Department in the wake of Obama’s reelection.

Barzun was picked over Anna Wintour, the editor of American Vogue magazine and a public Obama defender. The English-born editor was a widely tipped candidate to be the US envoy in London, but is now artistic director of the fashion bible’s parent company Condé Nast.

Despite his truncated time in Stockholm, Barzun earned accolades for his folksy style and attempts to loosen up traditionally stuffy cocktail soirees.

“He was very gifted in many ways and he wasn’t a big fan of receiving lines,” Billy McCormac, a Stockholm-based PR consultant and political commentator, told The Local.

Eric Sundström, editor-in-chief of left-leaning political magazine Dagens Arena, called Barzun “the best ambassador I’ve seen on Swedish soil”.

“Energetic, smart and very curious. Add his experience from tech, politics, and interest in culture and you’ve got a great ambassador,” he told The Local.

Sundström’s best memory of Barzun’s tenure was attending a concert organized at the palatial Stockholm residence that featured US singer-songwriter Bonnie Prince Billy (Will Oldham).

“He had a number of events that brought together Sweden’s cultural elite in a way that was unusual for a US ambassador,” McCormac added.

Born in New York, Barzun was raised in Massachusetts and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard before joining CNET in 1993, where he helped the fledgling internet company to capitalize on the internet’s rising popularity.

The family of his wife, Brooke Lee Brown, owns the company that makes Jack Daniel’s whiskey, while Barzun’s grandfather Jacques Barzun was an eminent French-born cultural historian and philosopher, who died last year at the age of 104.

Speaking with The Local before leaving Sweden in 2011, Barzun reflected on what he had learned about during his less than two years in Stockholm.

“I’ll tell you what it is… it’s lagom,” he said, referring to the Swedish term which translates roughly into “just right” that for Barzun was a lot about balance.

“I think the world needs more balance right now, not less,” he said.

“Sweden has taught me a lot about balance, and I will take that with me when I go back to the US.”

McCormac added that it is “definitely possible” that Barzun’s expected arrival in London could have an effect on Sweden’s standing among the political elite in the British capital.

“He has a warm place in his heart for Sweden,” he said.

“I would expect Swedish groups in London won’t hesitate to make contact with Barzun when he arrives.”

The US embassy in Stockholm told The Local it had no comment on the report.

David Landes

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